Member of the reality-based community of progressive (not anonymous) Massachusetts blogs
Jenn Myers’ article in last Saturday’s Sun outlined City Manager Bernie Lynch’s “counter-proposal” to Chancellor Marty Meehan’s proposal to transfer “ownership of the Tsongas Arena to the University [Massachusetts, Lowell].”
Since it appears that the majority of City Councilors are eager to hand over the arena so that we can stop subsidizing the operation costs (currently $1 M/year) of the Arena, what Lynch has offered is a pretty good deal for the City.
1. The University pays the City $1 for the Arena (appraised at $27.4 M)
2. University pays $800,000 for the adjacent three acres of land (appraised at $2.9 M but it will cost about $2.1 M to clean up the site)
3. The city will work with the school to develop that land to generate tax revenue for the city.
4. If in three years that development is not generating real estates taxes, the school will pay taxes to the City “an amount equal to the real estate taxes owed on $5 million of commercial property.”
5. The University and the City would swap status; the City would be the one to receive “most favored tenant” classification. Currently, the University has that privilege.
6. The City would retain all revenue from City-sponsored events
7. LHS Athletics would get 110 hours at $420/hour; and 240 hours of free ice time
8. And as for that parcel of land on Pawtucket Boulevard, the City will taker off the University’s hands if they want to but do not expect anything in return.
As Myers pointed out in her article “Lynch and Meehan’s proposals are similar on the major points, but Lynch’s delves into more detail.”
I wanted the City to be a bit more patient and work things out; I know I am in the minority. I still believe that once the Devil contract is up in 2010, a lot of options open up. But I can count and it is an election year. If I am not mistaken, there are at least 5 if not 6 Councilors that would vote today to hand over the Arena to the University today.
The ball is in the Chancellor’s court. I know that the State will pay for the $5 million capital improvement for the Arena but where is the rest of the money for this transfer going to come from? Also, what are we going to do with the Devils until 2010? If they stay, the limitations remain the same and if you force them to go, aren’t you liable? Where is the money going to come from for the practice rink?
After all is said and done, the City Manager did what the majority of the City Council directed him to do: come up with a plan to transfer the Arena. Of course we still have the Debt Service of almost $2 Million but the $800,000 for the adjacent piece of land should put a serious dent on that bond.
The on-line, public comment site used by the Lowell Sun, Topix, has been ordered by a Texas judge to ‘[identify] details about 178 anonymous commenters on the site.” A Dallas couple filed a law suit asking the site to give them details about anonymous commentators so that they can be identified. The site itself was not sued.
According to Computerworld, “Topix CEO Chris Tolles said that his company had received the subpoena and was currently figuring out what exactly it needed to do. Tolles said in an e-mail. ‘We prefer to make sure requests are clear and specific and not overly broad.’
“Tolles said that Topix takes privacy issues very seriously and that his firm would not ‘simply hand over all of our records’ without a review of the demand by its lawyers and a discussion of the issue with the court.”
Although in the past courts have protected the right to post comments anonymously, they have allowed lawsuits forcing web site to help identify the commentators.
This lawsuit will be watched closely not only in the blogsphere but also by first amendment advocates.
The broken windows theory proposes that cleaning up a neighborhood, ie fixing its broken windows and empty lots, and police attention to minor crimes, will reduce the crime and the fear of crime in that area. A controlled study was conducted in Lowell in 2005, where 34 different areas were divided up into areas given this special attention, versus areas with standard police details and no special attention. The result showed a 20% drop in calls to the police.
Pointedly, cleaning up the physical environment led to the largest reduction in crime. Misdemeanor arrests proved less effective than cleanups. And the intensification of social services had almost no effect. Those results could differ over a longer study period. But in a time of shrinking municipal budgets, city officials ignore such findings at their own peril.
I can think of some blighted areas of the city where buildings owned by certain City Councilors could use a little of this special attention…
[New Bedford] Mayor [Scott W.] Lang put the number of police, firefighters and other city employees who stand to be laid off at roughly 200, but he did not say how that number would be spread across departments….Layoffs will begin this week.
City Manager Michael V. O’Brien says there could be “hundreds” of municipal employee layoffs in the coming months because the budget shortfall the city is facing may be insurmountable.
In other business, [City Manager Bernie} Lynch said he has been meeting with the city’s unions to discuss a plan to bridge the remaining $561,994 budget gap for fiscal year 2009 created by Gov. Deval Patrick’s midyear cuts to local aid…So far, I have been very pleased. The bargaining units understand the problems we are facing,” Lynch said, adding that he expects to have a full report for the council within the next three weeks…We are likely to avoid layoffs in this fiscal year, but it is likely that there will be job reductions in 2010,’ he said.
Do you think that it was luck that Lowell will not need to layoff anyone in FY 2009 and that we will, through successful discussions with City employees, figure out a way to close the FY 09 budget gap ($561,994) or was through the proper planning by the City Administration (CM and CFO, especially) in May/June 2008. I am going with the latter.
Last night’s Lowell City Council meeting focused on two (well three if you count the Winter Fest Awards) subjects: Bin Independence Day and The Arena. Here is the link to Jenn Myers article on the meeting in today’s Sun.
The major push to get the City recycling has begun with the distribution of the barrels. As expected there are some bumps but overall things seem to be going well. Those of us who live in condos/townhouses are envious but I heard Assistant City Manager T.J. McCarthy imply that there may be something in the works for those residents who do not qualify for recylicng; like maybe a drop off area.
As much as the Administration has done to educate and orient everyone there are still some glitches but my suggestion is for everyone who understand how this is going to work to explain it to their neighbors. It isn’t difficult. Maybe I misinterpreting the comments made by some City Council members but they expect the DPW, Health Department, Recycling Department, etc… to do all the work. Let everyone be a good neighbor and pitch in; that includes helping those who may have a language barrier. (more…)
(Cross-posted at BlueMassGroup)
So the elections are in and it looks like the hard-liner Israelis (as well as hard-line Palestinians) have sucessfully reaped benefits from the current rounds of conflict. This, in all likelyhood, means more lip-service to a two-state solution at the same time as settlements continue to expand. It seems to me that incentives for Palestinians to negotiate at this point are dwindling by the day. At some point they will come to the conclusion that any two-state option that Israel is willing to give isn’t one worth having. What then?
More below the fold. (more…)
Apparently the Globe didn’t report the whole story last night on the gas tax proposals (evidently, plural):
But administration officials, responding yesterday to a leak reported in the media, said the governor also was considering a gas tax increase as low as 5 cents and that no decisions have been made.
So there’s a range of proposals, only one of which got leaked, which was presumably not something Patrick would have wanted. I assume anyway.
One thing Ryan and I discussed on today’s Left Ahead! (podcast will be up eventually for downloading) was that the best thing that could happen with a large increase in gas tax is the elimination of highway tolls. Ryan’s more adamant than I on total elimination, but it does make sense.
I think this is the bigger issue:
The reports yesterday angered top lawmakers with transportation expertise who have not been briefed by the administration but who have been prodding the governor to take a leadership role on a gas tax for months.
“I come from the school where the number one rule is no surprises,” said Representative Joseph Wagner, a Democrat from Chicopee who has been the House’s top transportation official. “These proposals are surprises. It’s not my preferred way of doing business.
Though Patrick might have been doing just that (putting together a proposal for lawmakers) and wasn’t interested in this being released “piecemeal.” Apparently, someone else was.
What the bleepity-bleeping hell happened to “50 degrees Fahrenheit today!”?
…Mother Nature owes me big time.
Lofty title, eh? Got your attention though.
Mr. Lynne sent me this very interesting link, whereby mathy statistics geek Mark C. Chu-Carroll eviscerates some of the “but the New Deal didn’t do anything to help us out of the Great Depression” arguments circulating around Republican circles.
But to argue that unemployment was not reduced by hiring three million people? That’s idiocy. And Ms. Shlaes (and most of the people citing her) know it. In fact, she basically admits it herself, but handwaves her way past it: “To be sure, Michael Darby of UCLA has argued that make-work jobs should be counted. Even so, his chart shows that from 1931 to 1940, New Deal joblessness ranges as high as 16% (1934) but never gets below 9%. Nine percent or above is hardly a jobless target to which the Obama administration would aspire.”
Read that carefully. She’s admitting that WPA programs reduced unemployment by nearly half. (And even that’s using skewed figures. Different ways of estimating unemployment during the Depression range as high as 25%.) But even in the midst of her argument about how the New Deal didn’t decrease unemployment, she’s admitting that it reduced unemployment quite dramatically.
As I said, this is a typical way of using statistics in a misleading way. Pick a statistic that measures quantity A, and use it as if it measures quantity B. You can see arguments like this all over the place.
But he’s egalitarian, and brings up a myth some progressives talk about too.
To cite another example, this time from the other side of the political spectrum: when criticizing the Bush administration’s fiscal policies, you constantly hear people talking about the Clinton surplus. They tell you that under Bill Clinton’s fiscal policies, the federal government’s budget went from operating at a huge deficit to a huge surplus.
The problem is, there was no surplus. There was never a real surplus under President Clinton. It’s once again a game of switching metrics.
When someone talks about the surplus, they’re playing a misleading game by using invalid metrics. But by citing one quantity (total government income including money borrowed from social security), and pretending that it represented a different quantity (total government income from general taxes), they can dishonestly claim to have balanced the federal budget, and produced a surplus.
I’ve been saying that since Bush’s initial “let’s cut taxes cuz we got a surplus” bull in 2000. The surplus wasn’t really a surplus, but a surplus in Social Security receipts, deliberately saved up over the previous two decades for the baby boomers under a tiny SS tax increase under Reagan and his Democratic Congress, one of the few long-sighted fiscal things Regan ever did (or allowed to happen). Remember Al Gore’s “lock box” argument in presidential debates? Yeah, that’s what this was all about.
Sure, some liberals talk about the surplus in the manner Mark mentions. But really, it was Republicans using this same claim as a justification for tax cuts that got us into some serious hot water very early on. I wonder who did more damage?
And that, my friends, is how I am reality-based more than my Republican friends. Because I’d rather speak the truth than score political points. (Er, regarding talking about a Clinton surplus, I mean. I hope I score some political points for pointing out how I don’t like to score political points.)
So Patrick has decided to propose a gas tax increase instead of a toll hike. I generally approve, with some caveats.
1) A $.27 increase is going to cause a political uproar. I suspect that’s sort of the point - pick a pie in the sky amount, expecting people to talk you down. If you started at $.11, chances were that the legislature might cut that amount. However, personally, I don’t object to the $.27 increase (though, all at once? that might be difficult for people). I think gas tax should be over a $1 per gallon, if only to discourage the use of gas. Suddenly a hybrid pays for itself much faster, doesn’t it?
The only thing I hate about the gas tax is that it’s rather regressive - the people who tend to drive distances are the ones working for a living, and many already just barely making ends meet. If much of that money went towards improving regional and statewide public transit, that helps. But it’ll hurt working class folks more than the wealthy, because they use the roads just about as much but have less disposable income.
On the other hand, isn’t preserving our planet worth at least that much per gallon?
2) The second caveat, and the bigger stickler for me, is this:
Tolls would be removed west of Route 128 by the end of next year. Tolls within Route 128, from Weston to Boston, would come down as the state shifts to a program of tracking — and charging — all Massachusetts drivers based on the miles they travel.
Trips would be measured by a chip installed in a vehicle inspection sticker as soon as 2014, and in-state drivers would receive a gas-tax refund for their mileage to avoid double payments. Out-of-staters would remain subject to the higher gasoline tax.
Now, look, we all carry cell phones and GPS systems and by golly, we are so trackable in this day and age that whole companies are devoted to collecting that data and selling it. But the idea of such a large database of where I’ve been all year in my car, well, that’s a little scary. If there were guarantees that data would be deleted after the tax surcharge figured out, and NOT collected to give out to other agencies or even given to police for investigations, I might be assuaged. The problem is, even if you start out with such assurances in the law, there’s no guarantee that the law won’t change (say, if there’s a push for “law and order” in some dystopian future). Of course, something being in law doesn’t mean it won’t get abused, as we found out under the Bush administration, and even if you trust this guy in charge now, in five years from now, or ten, who’s going to be at the reigns?
It’s just all a little too Big Brother to me. Get rid of the tolls entirely, don’t stick us with a system that could potentially be so badly abused. (Then again, with all the OnStar type of services people use these days, and everything else, maybe we’ll all be wired up one way or other anyway…)
It is true, that like a cigarette tax, you put such a tax on gas to discourage its use, and with diminishing use, comes diminishing revenues. But I don’t think we have to worry about that for a few years yet…unfortunately.
So there you have it. Any thoughts?
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